DW: Mr. Blienert, with the legalization of cannabis, the federal government is drilling a very thick board – and a complex one at that. How many ministries are involved in the process?
Burkhard Blienert: Almost all ministries from the federal government are involved because there are many areas that need to be regulated. This goes beyond agriculture and youth protection and does not stop with tax issues. The Ministry of Health is in charge.
They had late June 200 experts were invited to exchange ideas over five days. How does the concrete Roadmap for legalization?
It was very important to me that we carried out a really broad consultation process before the summer break. We have thus created a good basis for the status quo. At the same time, it was like a starting signal: Now it’s actually time for the concrete design. The agreement is that the federal government will adopt key points in the fall and then draft a law on the basis of them. It will then reach Parliament and then the parliamentary deliberations. I’m assuming they’ll be included next year. When the law is passed and when it comes into force is in the hands of Parliament.
What do you think are the most difficult construction sites in the legalization process?
The complexity of the law. It is not a law from one house, but many points have to be coordinated. The goal is a coherent concept that allows adults to be sold in licensed specialist shops and thus ensures health protection and the protection of minors, as promised in the coalition agreement. In addition, we have to clarify the issues of international law and European law that are connected with the whole thing. So far, international agreements have been read in such a way that cannabis is to be strictly prosecuted. However, one of the relevant UN conventions dates back to the 1960s. Those were different times back then. But if you want to enter a new era, a modern drug and addiction policy that also does justice to modern health policy, then it is necessary to hold debates and discussions – also about how these agreements are to be understood in 2022. And how we deal with them. I would like to do that so that we can actually overcome the prohibition period for cannabis and give Germany a constructive and progressive approach to drug and addiction policy.
Some states have already gone down the road of legalizing cannabis, like Uruguay or Canada or some states in the US – each in their own specific form. We will look at that in this process. We also have the legalization debate in Europe, in Malta, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, which, like us, have to observe European law as well as international law. We are there in exchange.
Before this can happen, not only the Bundestag has to agree, but possibly also the Bundesrat. Depending on the situation, you also need votes from countries in which the Christian Democrats, who are the largest opposition party in the Bundestag, are in government. So far, they have been largely skeptical about legalization. How are you going to convince them?
I see we have a black market. In Germany, an estimated six to eight billion euros are sold every year through cannabis. We don’t know exactly. However, we know about the health consequences of products available on the black market, such as high THC levels, impurities or the addition of synthetic cannabinoids. This does not help people in their dealings with the substance cannabis.
In this respect, I believe that we also have good arguments vis-à-vis the federal states. You can see that under the conditions still in force in Germany, there is too little health protection, that the black market is not being pushed back at all.
My approach is that more can be achieved through regulation, that the black market can be pushed back. That we can help people in their consumption to implement more health protection. The federal states cannot ignore this – after all, they experience the problems first-hand in their communities.
I would like to do the work of persuading the opposition and enter into the discussion with them. And I think an opposition stands out when it brings in constructive suggestions on how we can improve German drug and addiction policy.
But the old Narcotics Act still applies. Every three minutes, a cannabis user – not a dealer – is confronted with the police and the judiciary. That’s why activists are proposing to immediately decriminalize and exempt the possession of small amounts – including the cultivation of up to three plants. How do you feel about this?
Pure decriminalization is not enough for me. I want the regulated market. That’s how the coalition agreement described it. This is a tour de force and we are on to it. That includes decriminalization. I think it’s better not to break out individual elements now, but to think about everything together. We want a result from a single source.
The conversation was led by Matthias von Hein.